Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Ministry of Fear

No Bears (2022) - Panahi Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 8.44.22 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 11.09.49 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 9.11.24 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 11.08.59 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 10.29.34 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 10.35.40 AM Jafar Panahi has been steadily making films in Iran despite threats of imprisonment and bans from making films and traveling outside Iran by the government. All things considered, his films made within the parameters of draconian restrictions he faced, were subversive, comical and even life affirming. No Bears is perhaps the most damning film about the oppressive Iranian regime and perhaps the saddest Panahi film I've seen. As usual, Panahi puts himself in the middle of his creation - film director in self-imposed exile in a small border town near Turkey, directing a film about an Iranian couple waiting for their passports by human traffickers so they can escape to Europe. Things are tough because he is directing it remotely and the internet connection is bad. He also has to deal with the locals who are uneasy about a famous film director staying in their midst with a fancy SUV and cameras. He gets embroiled in controversy when he takes some pictures of the locals and being accused of recording an illicit love affair that doesn't jive with the local tradition. The locals talk and it's a matter of time that police and the Revolutionary Guards showing up at the door of his rented room.

There's a poignant and telling scene where Panahi's assistant leads him to the dirt road to the border crossing, used by smugglers at night and urges him to escape. After they reached the hill, overlooking the lights of a Turkish border town in the distance. After receiving the signal, they can cross to Turkey. It's that easy. Panahi asks where the border is. His assistant tells him that he is standing on it. The camera tilts down to his feet and Panahi retracts like a turtle, down the hill to the direction where they just came from without saying a word.

No Bears confronts the perils of documenting the truth in an oppressive society. Beyond the theme of rural traditions vs. modern life, Panahi's film illustrates the underlying fear that is dividing people and making them hostile to each other. It also shows the limits of cinema as a truth telling medium, that things still go on after the camera stops rolling/recording. The film reminded me of the news of his fellow Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof's daring escape from the country to show his new film at this year's Cannes film festival, as he was sentenced to 8 years in prison and flogging by the Iranian government. No Bears’ two tragedies that Panahi witnesses in the film- the death of two people, even though they are fictionalized, they take on the new meaning, considering what the revered filmmaker is facing every day in the country that he still refuses to abandon.